The Philippines announced the first death outside China from the coronavirus on Feb. 2 which originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. The news set into motion a considerable public outcry targeting Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and reignited a long history of racist treatment towards anyone of Chinese heritage.
Duterte’s perceived reluctance to respond quickly to the virus, which critics saw as tied to his administration’s cordial relations with the Chinese government, led the hashtag #OustDuterte to trend on Twitter.
The virus has not only shaken public trust in Duterte’s government, which remains broadly popular, but it has also worsened the already fraught relationship between the majority of ethnic Filipinos and the country’s sizable community of Chinese Filipinos, known locally as Tsinoys, along with hundreds of thousands of Chinese nationals residing in the Philippines. While Chinese Filipinos are well integrated into Philippine society, resentment sometimes arises due to their relative wealth and their presence among the nation’s elite.
Duterte announced an entry ban on Chinese travellers from affected areas on Jan. 31, one day after saying he did not want to restrict the entry of Chinese nationals. Two days later, the ban was expanded to all foreigners traveling from China and Hong Kong.
At press time, several cases have been confirmed in the Philippines, and over 300 people remain under watch for possible infections.
The anti-government backlash was sparked in the days before the travel ban. As Filipinos fretted about the virus’s arrival, Health Secretary Francisco Duque rejected the idea of a temporary ban on Chinese tourists, saying it would spark “political and diplomatic repercussions.”